Mapping The Urban Ecology: Racial Communities, Ethnic Enclaves, & Multicultural Populations in NYC

Course Description: This course will examine how places and spaces are imbued with racial and ethnic characteristics by virtue of the people who inhabit them, and how individuals understand their racial and ethnic identity in connection to place and space. It is an intensive research practicum that teaches basic research skills, explores the city, and teaches social science writing. Taking an ethnographic approach, students will be required to explore neighborhoods historically associated with a particular racial or ethnic category, neighborhoods that have or are currently undergoing gentrification, and neighborhoods with a diverse multicultural population. Students may choose to research ethnic enclaves such as Chinatown and Crown Heights (the portion where Hasidic Jews reside); historically black neighborhoods subject to gentrification such as Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant; or the ethnically diverse neighborhood Jackson Heights.

Image by Ratana Limnararat

Teaching New York City 

I have encouraged students to use New York City as a living laboratory. For the Urban Ecology course (as well as the Black Women’s Hair class), my students were required to conduct original ethnographic research on places in the city, such as stores, restaurants, and parks. Some examples are the perception of safety in housing projects with different degrees of visible police surveillance (e.g. a watchtower), and the infiltration of gentrification into a predominantly Black church in Harlem. In the Urban Ecology course, we toured the Museum of the City of New York and the Tenement Museum.

On their way to the Tenement Museum, students separated into groups to do a scavenger hunt of historical landmarks in the Lower East Side (they took selfies as proof of finding the locations). Our field trips and the requirement to conduct original research, in part, facilitated my students’ eagerness and ability to make connections between core concepts from the course readings and current events and their everyday lives.